Working in the Theatre: DIY Theatre

I’m interested in the power of nonsense
in language, so am always looking for moments where the language can surprise the audience
member and sort of put them into another context, put them into another way of hearing and experiencing
the play. [WARMING UP]
Honey, can you write me a song? [WARMING UP, SING-SONGY]
Meat busk, meat busk. Pry you from your shell. Cracking shells with crackers designed specially
for shell cracking. We have a good time here, it’s the only
pleasure…>I really love to make things by hand and I
really value that in the things that I consume. In this show, pretty much everything has been
made by someone in the show either for this iteration or for when we did it previously
five years ago. We saved a lot of that stuff. I’m trained as a playwright. I went to Brooklyn College, to Mac Wellman’s
program there. My creative process is different for every
show, but I think one thing that unifies it is that I seldom know exactly where I’m
going to go when I begin a project. I usually start with an image, or like, a
snatch of words that are sort of lingering with me and just follow the impulse. In this show, I play many roles, I wrote the
show and directed it, I designed the costumes and I helped out with the set design, and
I’m actually producing the show, as well as stage managing the show. So, it’s a lot for one person to do. I keep calling back the same people because
I think we share a sense of sensibility, and we’ve developed a particular way of talking
to each other. I call back people who’s work I really admire,
performers I’m really excited by, and musicians who I think are amazing. So, there’s a mutual respect that I think
makes us want to keep working together. I think there are certain parts that have
become developed and illuminated by the performers that are taking them on right now. Craig Flanagan who is the composer and director
and my partner has brought into his bands a lot of musicians that we’ve been playing
with in the last few years. When I write, I’m often writing the worst
things about me. The worst thoughts I have, the feelings I’m
most ashamed of, and I’m putting them on the page in the mouths of characters in the
hope that that will be, kind of, healing for me or for other people or maybe kind of like
galvanizing, “We can do better than this.” I like theater that is very theatrical, or
uses a kind of stage language that more dynamic than actor equal character. I like expressionistic kind of things. I think creative control is a myth. Control is so fragmented always. Theater is such a collaborative art form;
nobody owns an event. A script is an invitation to collaborators
to make something. I work very very closely with director Morgan
Green and also actress Madeline Weiss and we’re in a theater company together called
New Saloon. We work very very very closely, even if we’re
starting with a text that I wrote. What you’re about to see is Sister Sylvester,
Katherine Hamilton, and collaborators Brawn. Followed by a New Saloon with Milo Kramer. Thank you so much for coming and enjoy the
THEATER CENTER AT THE GRADUATE CENTER, CUNY] We have self-produced almost all of our own
work, and we are just now arriving at a place where we are doing co-productions with people
and more institutional theaters are starting to recognize and like us and give us resources. I think that not waiting for somebody to give
you something, you know, is crucial. Doing what ever you want to do is crucial. But it is so tricky, because you need to find
space, you need to find money to pay everyone, you need to find money for the sets and props
and things. It’s very very hard to be a young artist
and it’s no wonder so many people are afraid to do it. I sort of entered into theatre a little by
accident. I went to the New School, and I studied the
Media Studies program there. You can choose a focus and I chose audio. And then I ran into Pavol Liska, who does
Nature Theater of Oklahoma, at a party and we started talking about sound design. And I thought I was going to do sound editing
for video but I tried doing the sound design and I loved it in theater so, I was doing
that for a little while. Then, I was in Nature Theater of Oklahoma,
that company for a while, doing sound and music. I sort of morphed into becoming a performer
and it felt like a very natural transition to me. I have been baking all my life, and we all
had a feeling that this is not going to last forever. I started to think about what was next for
me, and so I decided to go to pastry school. I started working expressly just in pastry
but then as I started to do that I started to miss performing a lot. So then I just decided why not to use the
two together. Andrew Ondrejcak who’s a good friend of
mine and a colleague, I was talking with him and I was saying how I wanted to do a cooking
show sort of- not as a joke but as a lark, and so I think he sort of talked me into doing
it. So I did a ten minute version of that, the
recipe, so then it kind of grew from there. It’s just like any other cooking show that
you see, I use some of the same format but instead I’m going to talk about my slightly
subversive life. [PERFORMING]
Oh, hi! Welcome to the Collapsible Hole, and welcome
to my cooking show, The Recipe. Thank you so much for coming. [NARRATING]
I usually start with a little bit of a script at the beginning but then the rest of the
show I just outline points that I want to hit and of course Matt Korahais, my collaborator
and now director, he’s essential in helping me build on that. Kristen really comes up with the recipe and
the dessert she wants to serve herself and then we brainstorm on topics around that. Like this one related to deaths and forms
of death and celebration of death, and so I do- we both do a lot of reading about that. It’s improvisational, it’s never fully
scripted but we have big topics that we’re sure she wants to talk about and then she’s
obviously free to take tangents and come up with things live. The form of a cooking show is a lot of just
ear-chatter. I have a tendency to go on lots and lots of
tangents which can be good, or course, but sometimes, you want to reel it in a little
bit. So, I think Matt is doing that for me and
also in terms of the look of the show, to have another set of eyes on it. [FUNKY MUSIC] I was late coming from work. I really have a regular job but I took up
this job putting up solar panels. It’s a really intense thing to do all day
and then to- yeah. Get yourself out of money foes and perform. [TO PEOPLE IN LINE]
We’re going to try… I guess I’m going to stop selling tickets. Alright, so I guess we’re going to let everyone
in because they’re starting the show. [TEXT: TINY HORNETS] These women are doing a traditional dance
of the country. So, as you can see, highly synchronized idiosyncratic
irregular movement is a complicated pattern that many begin learning from birth. I will not hear you say that in a knob-fight! Physical violence is not tolerated but many
in our culture have a hard time believing so it’s uh…. Oh! You’ll want to see this! This is really a privilege. [SINGING]
You’re in the woods to find someone to carve some shoes that’s understood. It’s something good. How do you make shoes without tacks? How will you lay beasts on their backs? Tack tack tack tack tack tack tack tack… But those are all the verses I know. Con-traband. As in beast-pelt perfume your wife covets. And your nearest sha-tack shoemaker haha and
I don’t expect that. I don’t expect you to totally understand
this, but isn’t she lovely, isn’t she lovely, isn’t she lovely? I wrote a play called “Cute Activist”. I started writing it 3 years ago. There’s puppets in it, and there’s songs
in it.>Jen>Gil Gil I love how organized you are, and I associate
organization directly with happiness not to mention power. You too. Two, I love your intense eye contact, your
speech patterns. Intense? Three, I love that they and you, everything
about you really promises success. Can I talk for a second? [LAUGHTER] It was a really different time. Obama was president and activism meant something
different. Now, we’re in this moment where everyone
is trying to figure out how to be an activist because we all need to in order to survive. Gil, I’m an activist. Ah. I’m going to an activist meeting tonight. For what cause? Um, all. There’s all this like, very very fun, joyous
theatricality in the play which contrasts with a lot of the emotional content of the
play which is like deep shame, deep fear, despair, apathy, terror. That’s why I can’t do dating apps, because
they all ask: “What’s your favorite band?” when what’s beneath that question is “How
much money do you have?” How much money do you have? This particular episode of this show was a
little difficult for me and I think that it was bringing up a lot of personal things. You know, about my parents dying and it’s
a fine line to be up there and be up there and want to be vulnerable but at the same
time I didn’t want to ever frame it as if I was complaining. [PERFORMING]
Oh! Hi! Welcome. Tonight I’m going to make for you something
very special to celebrate this very special time of year. You know, it’s getting a little colder outside. The days are getting shorter. The nights are getting longer. The leaves on the trees are changing colors,
turning brown, falling, plunging to their deaths. So, what better time to celebrate death? [NARRATING]
I’m doing it as an act of generosity. One of the reasons why I wanted to bring people
up is sort of to have that reciprocation of experience. [PERFORMING]
So, what do you think about when you think about something sweet to eat on Day of the
Dead? Pan de Muerto, yes, that sweet bread, that
dead bread, that is a brioche-like dough but it’s flavored with orange essence and dotted
with anise seeds and decorated with dough that’s shaped like bones of our ancestors. [NARRATING]
I use humor in the show not necessarily as a conscious thing. It’s something that I require in life. I like kind of getting people confused. They’re like, “Wait, what did she just
say?” kind of thing. I don’t have any interest in, you know,
getting up there and giving lectures to people. That’s why I feed people because I want
to actually engage in a physical way, too. This show is definitely DIY because I am definitely
doing everything myself with the help of people who I hire. People work really hard and they offer some
resources but I pay for a lot of things out of my own pocket. I look at it as an investment, of course,
but there’s a point at which I’m not going to be able to do that anymore. For the last 14 years that I’ve been making
theater in New York, I’ve been working other jobs to support that work. I’ve done a variety of things, I’ve been
a personal assistant, I’ve been a waitress, I also sometimes do costume design. I’ve worked with artists like Rachel Chavkin
and Anne Washburn at Classic Stage Company, but for the last 9 years, I’d say, I’ve
been a teacher. I teach college essay writing. It’s a full-time job, but I have the summers
off and so I am able to do a lot of work during those times. A lot of writing and a lot of preparation
for projects. [TEACHING]
This is the assignment, it is up on the Google Docs, you have to write a one paragraph representation
of an idea from an essay that you’re interested in working on and a one paragraph representation
of a work of art that you think has some sort of interesting connection to that idea. Special note, so the Aunts performance at
the Skirball Center which I think is going to be really cool says that they’re sold
out online but they actually held 15 tickets for me, so if you want to go, let me know
and I’ll put your name on the list. I think that’s a pretty special thing to
get to see. [NARRATING]
In the theater, New York, which was about 2000, I think that word “downtown” was
still very much in use because there was a sense that there was a physical space in Manhattan
where a lot of more experimental theatre was happening. Now, that’s less the case. It just doesn’t really describe where this
theater is happening, which is backyards, at art collectives in Bushwick. My partner Craig and I have a space in Williamsburg
which is called the Uncanny Valley, it’s our studio space. We also have performances there and we rent
it out for rehearsals. Coming up, we are working on another version
of a show called “Mending” that we’ve done several times over the last couple of
years. It’s actually a show that Craig is directing
and arranged and composed and created the conditions for the music and I wrote the text
and I probably will be performing in it. It was our first time using modular synthesizers
really as a part of a play like as a theater performance and it was really exciting. [SYNTH MUSIC PLAYS OVER CHATTER BETWEEN NORMANDY AND CRAIG] I’m looking forward to getting back into
AND CRAIG] I think the ideal way for me to work is to
have a dedicated studio and dedicated time with performers and designers. I would love to work on a project where I
could really work on it 40 hours a week for like 3 months or something like that. I would love to just have that time with collaborators
to really invent something altogether and have the time to experiment with it and try
different things with it. [SYNTH SOUNDS] [OUTSIDE, TO DOGS]
Let’s go. Come on. Let’s go over here. Hi, how are you guys doing today? I’m happy because of the rain. [DOG BARKS] Hey! Hey! Hey! Pepper, Bella. [NARRATING]
For five years, I worked as a barista at a bakery where New York City major Bill De Blasio
came every morning. I would serve him his espresso, and I was
very amused to think of myself as the major’s barista. And, “Oh, this is the play written by the
major’s barista!” and “The major’s barista wrote a PLAY!” I did not love being a barista but it’s
fine, I survived and now I need a job. Sometimes I walk dogs. I’m trying to be a humanities tutor, but
those are not in high demand. My coolest job is that I sometimes get paid
to read scripts for various theaters. Right now, I am reading for Playwrights Horizons. They have an open submission policy which
is really beautiful. Anyone from anywhere can send them a play
and they will read it- I will read it. Working in the theatre is so cruel. It’s so important to create a healthy and
sustainable life for yourself while you pursue art, and I have not always been successful
at taking care of myself. I lived in my friends living room for a year
and a half, where I paid $500 a month to live in his living room and I didn’t have a door. But I was so happy because paying that little
rent meant that I didn’t have to work that many days at the bakery so I can spend more
time playwriting. I think the theater that I make is so in dialogue
with my living circumstances which are precarious. So, in an ideal world, it would be confusing
to even know what to make theater about because there would be no problems. You know, the theater that I make is in direct
response to the problems that I have like surviving without healthcare and with student
debt. So for a long time I was like my entire life
should be organized around being able to devote time to my artistic projects. Having the resources I need to make art is
success. There is something very lonely about writing
plays. Like I like being part of a company. To some extent, us forming a company was a
response to the very harsh inhospitable borderline impossible working conditions for emerging
theater artists in New York City. Like, if we pool all our resources, we can
produce one show a year. [SPEAKING ON PANEL]
The play started, I was kind of thinking of all the ways I’m apathetic or failed to
be more political. I didn’t vote in the local Brooklyn election
[GASP] I know, it’s horrible, but a lot of people didn’t! Your two collaborators did! They’re good! [PERFORMING]
We all do have hungry ghosts inside of us, yes? So let’s all have dessert. [NARRATING]
The downtown theater scene is a real thing in New York City. There’s a real community there. Everyone who’s doing it mostly has another
job. It’s not something we can all do that really
can gain any real momentum because I think people are always struggling. It’s something that I’ve wanted really
honestly to get out of. It’s not a model that, as I’ve said is
sustainable nor do I want to participate in something where I feel like we as artists
are not compensated fairly. New York, I think, is very difficult for people
who are not fully produced or in companies. It’s always going to be a challenge, for
sure. When I’m not working on theater, mainly
I do pastry to make a living. Right now, I’m in-between jobs. I’m waiting to be working at a new restaurant. I also still do audio work. I do editing jobs for people. I also make cakes for people, do functions. I was asked by some friends of mine to bake
them a gender reveal cake which I had never heard of one before. But it’s a cake in which you cut it open
and whatever is inside reveals the sex of the baby. Pink or blue, or red or blue, accordingly. I think there are a million great pastry chefs
in New York City, I of course always want to hone my craft but my real goal is to offer
something different to people, have a unique experience and evening. I’ve been working on some smaller shows,
invitation only, really curate an evening for people on a smaller scale and also and
more focused scale. I’m striving to find a different audience. I feel like you should have a bigger picture
in mind. I think it gets back to really engaging your audience on an intimate level. Although, I have dreams of doing a huge production of this, too.


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